WRC - Press Conference

08.03.18

Transcript of the pre-event Press Conference organised by the FIA for the 2018 Rally Mexico

Present: 
Sébastien Loeb, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT 
Jari-Matti Latvala, Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT
Elfyn Evans, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 
Dani Sordo, Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT

Q:
Welcome back to the WRC Seb! 2015 was when we last saw you behind the wheel of a WRC car, with 2012 being your last full season. You return to a rally you’ve had great success at with six wins. Is it good to be back?
SL:
It’s not very different, but I suppose it’s a bit more complicated to get in the rhythm on the first stage on the recce. I definitely had to think a bit more. It’s less natural than it was. The feeling came back during the recce and it was okay. It was the same thing this morning in the shakedown and I was not really confident. My position was very low. I tried to take it easy and increase the rhythm and was quite okay. 

Q:
How are you finding the new generation WRC car? What are your thoughts on the performance from your tests?
SL:
I tested two days, two weeks ago, and for me the feeling was quite good. I was not able to compare to the other car. With the new regulations and the new evolutions, the car feels fast, the engine feels good and the suspension and the balance are good. 

Q:
You have a good road position here, you know how to win at this event - in your mind what are you targeting in terms of a result?
SL:
It is difficult to say what I can do. All the WRC drivers do a lot of rallies every year and they are in the rhythm. It’s not easy to fight with any of them. I hope I will be able to find a good rhythm, but it’s really difficult to predict. It’s a surprise but I don’t know what to expect. The feeling is okay, the shakedown was okay and I hope I can do a good rhythm and drive a bit more. 

Q:
What do you think will be the toughest challenge?
SL:
El Chocolate, the second stage. Everyone knows it very well but it’s the first time for me. It is one of the challenges for me. The other stages, some of the old notes are okay, from 2011 and 2012 – my last time here. Some do not change a lot. The hardest challenge is to get the confidence with the car and myself. 

Q:
Jari-Matti, what are your thoughts on the event and are you feeling confident?
J-ML:
The feeling is now good. Sweden was frustrating for me. Now it’s a new page and we had a good test and, up to the shakedown, I am happy with the car. We made some changes and everything is good now.

Q:
You had some issues here last year. What have you done to rectify those?
J-ML:
We have done a lot of work with that side and we have used a dyno in Japan to acclimatise the car to these conditions. The team have done a good job there. Juho Hänninen, our test driver, concentrated on the engine side in Spain. We are well prepared. Remember, more power means more heat and heat needs to go somewhere. We have a good solution to the cooling and we have a strategy for this in case it goes bad. 

Q:
Sébastien (Loeb) mentioned the El Chocolate stage could be tricky. What are your thoughts?
J-ML:
This stage is always challenging. Guanajuatito has a new part too. There is a seven-kilometre section that is tricky and technical and narrow with rocks in the side. The stages are in good condition, but you cannot go wid. There are some nasty rocks on the side of the road. 

Q:
It looks like it’s going to be a very competitive year and, of course, Sébastien Loeb is back as well… 
J-ML:
I think the challenge at the moment is higher that it has been for many years. Seb being here is great. It will be testing for him and all the other drivers. The years are going quickly. I am getting older as well. It’s good fun. I was 17 when I started, but it’s been many years now…. 

Q:
Elfyn, you were quoted this week as saying you’ve had a ‘rubbish’ start to the season. In your mind is it a combination of factors that have led to a disappointing start? 
EE:
No it’s not been the best start. It’s not what we wanted, punctures on both events is not great, I take part of the responsibility but, the one in Sweden, I was a bit unlucky. We have to try to turn things around. I have a good road position and will push to the maximum to get a strong result. 

Q:
This evening’s street stage is longer and more challenging. What are your thoughts?
EE:
I think everybody with be erring on the side of caution. It’s a tricky one to open the event and more so than before. There are more corners, more grip changes with the cobbles, so you have to be clean and efficient.

Q:
Dani, welcome back. You return to the championship after missing Rally Sweden where we saw you become a TV presenter. Was it a good experience?
DS:
It was not bad. The weather is better here. In Sweden, it was cold outside! But I prefer to be in the car. 

Q:
By missing out on Sweden you are handed a very favourable road position here. Can you take advantage?
DS:
The target is to try to fight for the victory. I have a really good road position to do something really good. The podium is the minimum and after that we see if we can take the victory. The first day is important to try to drive well and fast on the fast stages. 

Q:
Your former team-mate Sébastien Loeb returns. Is it good to have him back?
DS:
I am happy to see him back. It’s nice to see him again. I think he can do a nice rally. I am sure he will fight for a win.

Q:
What is your plan now for the year?
DS:
The plan is the same as before, to try to be as fast as possible on the rallies we do. We have less rallies but we will try to enjoy. 


FIA WRC 2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Nil Solans 
Benito Guerra, Motorsport Italia Srl

Q:
Nil, this is the first of your prize drives for winning the FIA Junior WRC last year. The first time with the R5 on gravel, are you fully prepared?
NS:
I am with the Fiesta the first time. We have a good feeling. We had a one-day test in a different place. We develop well and find a good speed. The car is fast and easy to drive. 

Q:
What do you think of the stages here? 
NS:
They are good. They are quite similar to Spain. The stages, the lines and the gravel are similar, but a bit more slippery. I think it will be similar to Spain. 

Q:
There is a good line-up in WRC 2, what can you achieve?
NS:
It’s difficult to say, but it would be great to finish all the rallies on the podium. 

Q:
You are the reigning WRC 3 and Junior WRC Champion. We have Tom Williams here who is taking the same path you did; what advice would you have for him?
NS:
Just work, work and try to do the maximum you can do and go flat put and beat everyone!

Q:
Benito, I think many people here would have seen the video from the WRC 2 test where your car went up in flames. Fortunately no one was injured but a sad sight indeed, can you tell us how it happened?
BG:
I am really sad about what happened on Monday at the test. I was testing to get the set-up right, to be fast and safe. The times were good. I was trying to compare with Pontus (Tidemand). After that, we were doing a co-driving experience for winners of TV and radio competitions. The last lap, with one of my mechanics, I start to feel a strange odour in the car. It was smelling of burning, but it was not the brakes or the tyres. I went in and the car was smoking. I thought it was the brakes, on the last lap we broke the handbrake and I had the lever in my hands. The pipeline of the brakes was broken and there was fluid in the axle system. The car started to catch fire by the left rear wheel. My team manager said you have to go out of the car and I was walking a few metres from the car and took my helmet off and then I heard a strange boom, not an explosion, and the car was on fire inside. It was so crazy. I have never seen anything like this before and I was really scared. I am glad it had not happened in the stage and we had to stop. It’s very bad for us. 90% of the car was burned. It’s bad for me and the Motorsport Italia team.  

Q:
What does that mean for the rest of the season?
BG:
Now we have Force Majeure from the FIA. That is the best thing to have at the moment. We will not be competing in México and will start our season in Portugal. The car has to go back to Europe in a container, not airfreight. A new car is needed and we will miss Argentina. I like that rally, I was on the podium last time. I also have a lot of fans in Argentina. So, my first rally will be Portugal and then we have a full season of European rallies, Italy, Germany, Spain, Wales, Turkey and then Australia instead of Argentina. 

Q:
How will you spend the weekend? We hear you were guest of honour at the León football match last night?
BG:
It was really nice to be the guest of honour and to be in the centre of the pitch and everyone was clapping. I appreciate that there are a lot of things to do now with the sponsors here. The fans want to see me. I will be in the stages and I will be tonight in Guanajuato. I will also be supporting my friends, like Nil (Solans). I will also be supporting the other Mexican drivers and good luck to Tom (Williams) too; welcome to México. Try to have a good weekend. 


FIA WRC 3 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Tom Williams

Q:
You had a tricky start in Sweden, I guess it’s vastly different here? 
TW:
This is a great rally. The atmosphere is like no other, the people, the heat. Sweden was great but I found it hard. It was so high speed. The pace notes were quite a challenge. We have done a lot of    homework and training and improvements for this event. 

Q:
What are your thoughts on the stages?
TW:
They are similar to when we did the recce for Spain, loose gravel but the stages are so much longer. I need to be physically fit enough to be able to listen to all the pace notes and not cut and go wide. I need to listen to the notes and not lose concentration.  The main objective is to learn all the events and I want to be as competitive as we can. It was a tough start in Sweden and we struggled but we can drop the score and put that behind us.